By Bret Johnson
Idaho House Republicans recently killed a $6 million bill to fund preschool literacy. Idaho has always been leery of Washington, and, based on our track record, education. One of only six states that doesn’t fund preschool, Idaho has the second lowest spending per pupil and is dead last in school funding. Teacher pay is comparatively low despite having many communities, including this one, with a relatively high cost of living. Additionally, 92 of the state’s 115 school districts require supplemental levies to keep schools open. Sure, says Idaho, you can offer us money for education, but you can’t make us take it.
So why the trepidation? There are purportedly strings attached, or that’s what Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, would have us believe — though no evidence supports this. In fact, further analysis paints a much different picture. If strings are attached they’re attached directly to Rep. Giddings, a puppet for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a group that, while preaching against taking stimulus money, filled its coffers with $330,000 thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
A quick aside, the Idaho Freedom Foundation (idahofreedom.org) is a powerful special interest group. It has a Freedom Index that rewards points to legislators who vote its agenda, which, I assure you, has more to do with control than freedom. If you think of the number as a measurement, the ones with the highest scores have the special interest hand furthest up their bums. They don’t work for the people.
With an impeccable Freedom Index rating of 100, Rep. Giddings, a staunch supporter of incumbent Lt. Gen. Janice McGeachin, fabricated a connection between former-Coeur d’Alene Republican Rep. Luke Malek, McGeachin’s opponent in the upcoming election, and the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, an organization that, while their mission is simply to support children, families and teachers, is deemed, by Rep. Giddings, too liberal. Contrary to her claim, Malek’s law firm was never affiliated with the AEYC website; it was just a well-timed political ploy to raise suspicion.
Always one to spin a yarn, the tale Rep. Giddings is currently peddling is that the $6 million federal preschool grant has a social justice agenda, which, once again, is not the case. Twin Falls Republican lawmaker Lance Clow, who serves as chairman of the Idaho House Education Committee, pushed back, saying he never heard about any such agenda. Could it be there isn’t one? With no evidence to the contrary it’s the reasonable conclusion to draw, and one, should the bill be revisited, we should base our decision upon.
As educators, we are obligated to present a comprehensive picture of the world. In contrast, a conservative agenda operates from a single viewpoint. In her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian writer and feminist — the very individual Rep. Giddings doesn’t want taught in schools — explains how a single perspective misrepresents truth. While some might label this a liberal agenda, we simply want students to formulate their own opinions based on information from multiple sources. The issue isn’t that we’re indoctrinating children; the issue is that we’re not indoctrinating children with the narrative conservative lawmakers want us to use.
Idaho has routinely dropped the ball on education. This is our chance to pick it up on the federal dime. Regardless of our ideologies, we should all strive to promote a free-thinking society, and, at the bare minimum, literacy, which is precisely, and singularly, what the federal grant is trying to accomplish.
Bret Johnson teaches English at Lake Pend Oreille High School.
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